Sri Lanka definitely wasn’t one of our priorities. We somehow managed to skip it, the teardrop in the middle of the ocean, shadowed by her huge neighbor India. But so far we have learned that the best experiences are usually the ones we don’t plan. As such, we didn’t turn our back on Sri Lanka when we realized we could easily get there. And this because we were in Southern India. From there only a short flight was separating us from the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Little did we know what an incredible tuk tuk experience awaited us!
The moment we decided to visit the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, we started reading a bit about it, checked some backpacking Sri Lanka guides and did a bit of research. Usually, before heading to a new country, we try to read about it a little. And Sri Lanka was no exception, we made sure to go through at least some basic tips about traveling there.
And we also wanted to see if we had enough activities and sites for the month we wanted to spend there. And especially when we realized that we would be there for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the most crowded moments of the year anywhere in the world.
After tons of research, we realized that Sri Lanka is one of those countries which I call “complete”. Because it offers you a bit of everything, so many things to do. There are forests waiting to be explored, some small treks on shy mountains, tea plantations, natural parks, but also beaches, ancient cities, forts, and temples. We even found itineraries suitable for when traveling with kids (coming soon, hopefully!).
But we had to narrow our Sri Lanka wishlist. So we simply pinpointed places on the map and let the excitement get us. All that was left was to get there and start connecting the dots.
The planning goes on
A few days before our flight to Sri Lanka, two to be precise, we found ourselves at a nice Indian family in Madurai. We should have been out wandering. But a political event (I will tell you more about this in another article) forced us to stay indoors. So we wanted to check our final things for Sri Lanka, check our visas, decide what to do in the first days. And here I got stuck in a detail that always gets me tired: transport.
Because of my back problems, transport is always a tricky subject for me. And what for most tourists is a minor expense, for us can easily become a blow in our budget. Because it’s too difficult for me to go for hours on a bus. So we usually have to turn our heads to the holy airplane. But Sri Lanka is too small to raise any problems, so we thought we should easily manage to get anywhere by local buses and trains. But there were so many places we wanted to see! Ah, only the thought of us struggling in buses with our backpacks on lowered my excitement.
Let’s rent a tuk tuk!
And then I heard Vlad, who does not usually get involved in such “boring administrative” details: Let’s rent a tuk tuk! Yep, this is why we make a good team. Because we always complete each other and come up with fun ideas for the other’s discontents. And bam! We started harassing Google with various “rent a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka” searches. It’s obvious we were not the first ones doing this, so it was doable, nothing science fiction about our plan. We started looking for blogs, to see where have others found their tuk tuks. And most of them wrote that they negotiated on the spot, they searched for locals and got along directly with local tuk tuk drivers.
But this would have meant losing a few days negotiating, searching through Colombo and Negombo, and comparing offers. We knew that our budget really appreciated this option, but we didn’t really feel like losing all this time. Furthermore, I felt the “lawyer-ish” spirit in me coming alive (apparently I still have it). So I felt more comfortable renting from a company, to have a contract, insurance. And this is what brought us to Tuk Tuk Rentals. We did a bit of research, we liked their project. Basically, they act as intermediaries between customers and local tuk tuk drivers that need our support. And in the same time, they provide a contract and insurance. After some friendly emails with Thomas (their representative), we got ourselves a deal!
The thrills of riding a three-wheeler!
We were a bit worried about the license, but apparently, Vlad’s driving license was perfect. He qualified for driving a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka. He only needed a local driving license that can be obtained in Colombo. We talked to Thomas and he helped us get the necessary papers so that we didn’t lose any time wandering at local authorities. And there you go: in just a couple of hours, we had a tuk tuk waiting for us in Sri Lanka. After we made sure to check some travel tips and other people’s experiences, we simply couldn’t wait to begin our adventure!
I have a lot of stories about our month in Sri Lanka. But bottom line, the tuk tuk was the most amazing experience. Without it, I am pretty sure we wouldn’t have enjoyed our time spent there as much as we did. We got to explore more freely, we didn’t feel the limits that we would have probably got by traveling by bus. I am not saying that it would have been very difficult to travel by local transport. All the tourists we met told us that it was easy for them to find buses, there are connections everywhere. But I bet that the bus doesn’t stop when you feel like taking a photo and for sure it will not take you off the beaten track.
“Is that a foreigner driving the tuk tuk?”
We took full advantage of our tuk-tuk. There were days when we would randomly pick a spot on the map. Then hop in our tuk tuk and let ourselves be mesmerized by amazing views – something which Sri Lanka definitely doesn’t miss. Gas in Sri Lanka is pretty cheap, so we didn’t feel a need to plan our routes based on this. The fun part was to notice the locals’ reactions. Because they are so used to seeing tuk tuks that they don’t really pay attention to who is actually driving them. So the moment somebody noticed Vlad driving, we had honking and cheering, smiles and laughter.
The freedom that you feel at home, knowing that you can get in the car and go anywhere you please – we felt it in Sri Lanka. And it mattered a great deal to be able to plan anything without worrying about means of transport. If we wanted a sunrise in the middle of a tea plantation, we got it. If we wanted to go on a beach in the middle of the night, we went. When we all of a sudden felt like eating something sweet, we just got in the tuk tuk and started looking for bakeries. And every single time with smiles on our faces and even with new friendships.
Dealing with problems
We didn’t have any significant problems with the tuk tuk. And when we did, Thomas helped us immediately. He even changed our tuk tuk when we told him that it got lazy and wouldn’t start right away. We once had a flat tire and that turned out to be fun. Because in no more than 3 minutes, we had a local guy coming to help. He even went on his bike to get a mechanic. And no, they wouldn’t take any money from us. The locals are too friendly and will gladly help you with any problem. It’s just that you need to be careful with the traffic, drive slowly and watch out for bus drivers.
Why shouldn’t you rent a tuk tuk?
I’ve been trying to come up with a reason to say that to rent a tuk tuk can be bothersome. But nope! Couldn’t find any. Oh, maybe some minor fights with your significant other. Because in our case, I was the co-pilot, I got to watch the GPS carefully in order to be able to tell Vlad which way to go. But God damn it, the views stole my eyes so many times that I would completely forget about the map. I would get the camera, snap a photo, maybe even record a small video, and the route was no longer important. So poor Vlad started to get irritated by my replies “Oh, you should have turned right … 10 miles ago!”
So no, I have absolutely nothing to reproach to a tuk tuk adventure in Sri Lanka. On the contrary, I would say it’s the perfect way to discover this island full of hidden gems. After our month spent in the tuk tuk it was really hard to say goodbye to it. And it got even more difficult when we reached Myanmar and had to return to buses, taxis etc.